Experienced, Growing Old, and the Long Now

Tis the season. Top 10 Innovators under 30. Top 35 Young Entrepreneurs under 35. So to see an article that celebrated growing old was a wonderful lift to my day. The editor of the MIT Technology review celebrated 7 inventors over 70. In fact most of them were over 80!

There are days when my gray beard doesn't seem like much of an asset in a fast changing young people's world. But when people ask when I or how I will retire, I point to my grandfather who was still doing locums as pharmacist - chemist as they called them in England at 82. And my father who was still practicing veterinary medicine at 75. I have some time to put in. But not as much time as the Long Now. Established to develop long term thinking (10,000 to 20,000 years) the foundation combats the short term thinking of today.

Civilization is revving itself into a pathologically short attention span. The trend might be coming from:

  • the acceleration of technology,
  • the short-horizon perspective of market-driven economics,
  • the next-election perspective of democracies,
  • or the distractions of personal multi-tasking.

When I worked as a land use planner/negotiator I found my greatest challenge was to get people to lift their heads up out of tomorrow and look 10 or 15 or even 25 years down the road. Foresters that I worked with could think in hundred year cycles but that was unusual. So when I see an organization that looks 10,000 years down the road I'm amazed and humbled.

It leads me to look around as a freelancer at my younger competition and ask what I bring to the table. What does "experienced" really mean? I came up with three simple things:

  1. Maturity and confidence
    The ability to slow down comes from years of life and work experience and makes for workers who get less "rattled" when problems occur. In my work as a First Aider I have learned that one of the most important things that I bring to an emergency scene is a sense of calm. Taking a deep breath and radiating a sense of certainty and confidence will do more to combat shock than all the frantic administration of oxygen in the world. As a web designer I've learned some basic principles that stand me in good stead. An email from Marketing demanding that the new site meet branding standards - the night before the site goes live - is not the end of the world. A few hours work and the new site was ready to go. Rather than railing at the unfairness or the corporate politics, get the job done.

  2. Communication skills
    Maybe this should be called diplomacy. What, when and how to communicate all come with experience. The abillity to summarize or say succinctly - bullet points while paying attention to egos and politics is effective communication. Knowing when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em as Kenny Rogers would say. Silence or waiting for the "teachable moment" are often learned the hard way - experience. But once learned these lessons are not forgotten. Emailing, phoning, Instant Messaging, texting or a "face to face" conversation. Mastering a wide variety of communication formats, handling them with care and attention, recognizing when miscommunication is occurring are all skills that are honed by my experience.
  3. Honesty, punctuality, efficiency, dedication
    Good character. As I grow older I learn that these character traits pay off. Time has taught me that there is karma in the world. As I watch people taking two steps when a little organization could reduce it to one step; recognizing that punctuality does just mean not late but on time; realizing being able to be the last man standing when others have quit or given up are uncommon traits. Payback may not come immediately but it does come eventually whether in clients coming back or them making a referral or in some other way.
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